A real-life American Dream played out live today to the throngs of supporters who’d shown up in Chicago to witness history being made. US heroine Gwen Jorgensen maintained her record-beating winning streak when it mattered most, providing the home crowd with a spectacle of sporting supremity. Sniffing the lead from the off, Jorgensen crossed the line 1:55:36 later to take her 12th consecutive WTS win and her second consecutive world title.
The crowd was no doubt hoping for a US 1-2-3 with athletes Katie Zaferes and Sarah True ranked second and third heading into the final event. But GB’s Non Stanford and Vicky Holland had other ideas, sticking with Jorgensen for the majority of the 10k run, before crossing the line for silver and bronze and bagging their slots for Rio in the process.
A 74-strong field lined up at the start of the 2015 WTS Women’s Grand Final in Chicago, where medals, titles and Olympic qualification slots were on offer.
Local attention was unsurprisingly on the trio of American women leading the 2015 rankings at the start of final event of the 10-race Series. Unbeaten over 13 consecutive races, it was Jorgensen’s race to lose. But with double points on offer, the title could still be claimed by teammates Zaferes and True. With Gorgensen and True having already booked their Olympic seat in Rio, Zaferes had to finish in the top seven to claim the final US women’s birth.
Out to spoil their and the crowd’s day were GB’s Non Stanford and Vicky Holland, fresh from a respective silver-bronze sweep at the Rio Test Event in August. With the GB Olympic qualification process requiring two podiums in both Rio and Chicago, their focus was clear.
As befits a Grand Final, all five were on form in and out of the 1.5km swim. With Zaferes stopping the clock at 17:50mins, her heels were the ones being hotted on, as she led in a group of approx. 12 women. While Stanford was a little slower out of T1, she quickly caught the lead pack and played her part in guiding the group of 22 around the streets of the drizzly city. By the end of lap four of nine, the group had swelled to 29, and included two more Brits – a lady with a point to prove, Helen Jenkins, having pulled out in Rio after being knocked unconscious in the swim, and Commonwealth gold medallist Jodie Stimpson, who suffered from an Achilles injury earlier in the year and was also on a mission to impress the Olympic selectors.
Midway on the bike, the chase group of 18 was 35secs down on the leaders. A small group of five were a further 34secs back before a third group were bringing up the rear over 2mins down on the front pack. British newbie to the WTS this year India Lee was mixing it in this final group which also contained London Olympic bronze medallist Erin Densham.
Stanford had a brief wobble on one corner during the fifth lap, but her months of training in the Yorkshire hills with bike-handling specialists the Brownlees, meant she quickly righted herself.
Little changed over the 40km bike, with the gap remaining consistent between the leaders and first chase group at around 50secs.
Straight out of T2 and it was a re-run of the Rio Test Event, with Stanford and Holland setting the initial pace, before slowly but precisely being joined by Jorgensen. The trio ran together over the first three laps of four before Jorgensen eventually made her move on the final lap, clocking a 32:43 10k split to cross the line as race and title winner. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked…
“The first lap of the swim, I got out and go ‘oh no, this is not the way I wanted to start.’ I felt I was too far back,” she admitted. “On the bike I just couldn’t maintain a good position, and on the run I just didn’t feel amazing. ”
Stanford followed in 29secs later for silver, before welcoming teammate Holland for bronze a further 15secs back.
“Maybe this was a reflection that the three of us are really strong at the minute when it comes down to the run,” said Stanford post-race. “It was a hard race, I found the swim long. I worked my arse off to get back up to the front bike pack. Vicky said that when I rolled up I tried to get straight to the front and she could hear how hard I was breathing. But as the race went on I came into myself a bit. I think I’m still recovering from Edmonton a few weeks ago, the conditions were really hard there. But I’ve done it, I’ve qualified for the Olympics! I can take a massive sigh of relief now. Go on holiday!”
“That was Rio part two,” said Holland at the line. “That was what we came here to do. I don’t want to sound defeatist but realistically I came here to get on the podium. This is absolutely what this whole year has been about. I’m just delighted that it’s now done. Box ticked.
“We knew Gwen would break like that today. The only thing that was in the back of mind was with over 120 corners and dead turns if you haven’t prepared really well you are really going to feel that drain in the legs. That said, it was an unlikely scenario with Gwen. I was doing okay with Non setting the pace and then when Gwen went I knew it was going to be a long last 2k. We had no response. But we’ve got a year to work on it!”
True, who ran on her own for most of the 10k, bridging the gap between the lead trio and a chasing trio of Andrea Hewitt (NZL), Stimpson and Rachel Klamer (NED), came in for seventh.
Having had a phenomenal season to date, Zaferes soon dropped through the field at the start of the run, eventually finishing 24th and fifth overall. Her result also helped propel Andrea Hewitt, fourth at the line, into silver-medal winning position in the overall Series, while True remained in third.
Stimpson broke into the top 10 with sixth, while Jenkins just missed out in 11th.
For full results head to http://www.triathlon.org/results/result/2015_itu_world_triathlon_grand_final_chicago/272182
PHOTO CREDIT: David Pearce